The Joys of Highland Park's Panaderias

It's not hard to find goodness in Highland Park's Mexican bakeries.

Panaderias. Our community has many.

If you are a regular at one, keep reading, but this writing is aimed at those who don’t know them, or haven’t indulged themselves lately.

For those not in the know, pan means bread in Spanish, so that makes a panaderia a bakery. You will find pan dulce, which is sweet bread. There will be more on that later. You'll also find pan de huevo, which is egg bread, but don’t make assumptions; postres, which means pastries; and bolillos, which are savory rolls. These are very loose translations, so if you disagree, educate those around you, but don’t argue.

It is the custom in much of the world to visit these kinds of places in the morning and grab a pastry and a coffee on the way to whereever you are going. And maybe stop in on the way home in the evening to get something for dinner or breakfast.

The cooking culture of Mexico was highly influenced by the French, when they owned the real estate for a while, and also by the Austrians. These baked goodies reflect the cuisines of those cultures and also how they evolved and changed. 

When Emperor Napoleon III made Archduke Maximilian of Austria Emperor of Mexico in the 1860s, Max brought with him a large court of French and Austrian royals, and they brought their staffs.

You can see the subtle French and Austrian influences in many aspects of Mexican cuisine, including sauces (salsas) and bouillabaisses. However, you can really see the influence in the pastries. Many of the classic Mexican panaderia shapes are classic shapes of Austrian/Viennese and French pastries.

It is claimed that the calories in Mexican pan dulce are one-third that of similar French pasties and that they are not as sweet.  Take that with a grain of sugar because portion sizes and individual styles of the baker will, I’m sure, affect the calorie content far more than any one can claim. But in general, yes, pan dulce seems to be less sugary and less filled with cream

Most panaderias have a huge assortment of pastries, breads and other goodies--but don’t be intimidated. One feature of most of these establishments is the entirely democratic way of selecting your goodies. 

You will find a tray and some tongs inside most panaderias; you are free to start selecting from the cases of goodies.

Short Shelf Life

A bit of advice--think of these things as just for yourself and someone you love, don’t take too many. These are real breads, real food, and they don’t have a shelf life like the industrial breads you’ll find at the supermarket. Take a few for what you will use in a day or two, and then go back again and keep exploring. This will give you the excuse to return soon and indulge

I’m not a coffee drinker, but the coffee smells at these places were delightful.

Some offer other goodies, such as tamales and prepared meats and sandwiches.

Each bakery will have different sizes and shapes and styles and quality to the product, so get to know them and settle on one you enjoy

Remember, again, that this is real bread, and often doesn’t have a long shelf life. They can go stale sooner than that loaf of white sponge you may have now.

In no particular order, visit the following panaderias:

  • Elsa’s Bakery, 5102 York Blvd.

And these super markets:

The sizes of the pan dulce, and the price, vary somewhat by each location.  I was tempted to review each place, and enjoyed eating my way through them. But I really think you should explore these places and leave reviews below and on our Places pages.  

I do want to spotlight one place and one item. Do your best to try the bolillos at Elsa’s. Really exceptional bread.

The next time you need some goodies for work, or a party, go to a panaderia and load up.  A change from the usual box of donuts. 

Ave. 50 xoxo March 01, 2012 at 03:00 PM
La Perla is by far the best bakery in HP. They are on a different level than the others you included. They make a pumpkin empanada that is AMAZING! If you happen to be lucky enough to get there in the afternoon when they are fresh from the oven you can smell the cinnamon from a mile away...Seriously !!
ChickenBoyFan March 01, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Elsa's Bread Pudding has been a weekend staple for years. What a beautiful family owned biz. I agree, the bolillos are the perfect cubano sandwich bread.
Eva March 01, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Duarte Market has the best conchitas.
Reies Flores March 01, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Very nice piece! I love that you included the history of pan in Mexico as well. It is too bad that one of the only Guatemalan panaderias in NELA, El Chapin, has closed down, but I'm excited to see what the new owners have in store at The Highland.
Jackie D. Campos March 01, 2012 at 05:28 PM
I enjoyed this one! I agree that La Perla is one of the best. You can walk in at anytime of the day and be treated to something Warm & Heavenly just coming out of the oven..They also make delicious Tamales and Champurrado but they go fast! And you can search all over HLxP and you will not find anything as good as their special breads for the Holidays like Dia de los Muerto and 3 Kings Day. Santa won't even come to our house unless there is some Conchas & Champurrado from La Perla waiting for Him!
Me March 01, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Elsa's by far is the longest standing bakery in Highland Park with over 30 years in the neighborhood. I've grown up waking up to those amazing scents of pan dulce. My favorite by far.
Hooper Humperdink March 01, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Delicia's provided the Bike Oven with its pan dulce for about two years. El Pavo, to me, makes their pan in a more European style (which I prefer). That is all.
bobo March 02, 2012 at 07:55 AM
Smells good
David O'Roscoe March 02, 2012 at 03:32 PM
And they have their items labeled in the cases. If you don't know the names this is a great place to visit. I was there one afternoon when they had a load of chicharon with meat, one of my guilty pleasure, and there wasn't any more left for Mrs O'Roscoe when she got home that evening.
Susan R March 02, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Obama wants to outlaw your sweet bread. It is nothing but flour that makes you fat.
David O'Roscoe March 02, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Does my picture make me look fat? Well, I am fat, and I enjoyed every experience that got me here. Calm down, please.
Susan R March 03, 2012 at 05:21 AM
That's great. I agree there is nothing wrong with being fat. No, your photo does not make you look fat. Your comment was enjoyable.


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